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Barclays disposes of Australian operation

BARCLAYS is selling its retail banking operation in Australia to concentrate on corporate work through its existing BZW investment banking arm, writes Tom Stevenson.

The withdrawal follows similar disposals in New York, California, Hong Kong and Israel. Outside the UK, Barclays' only retail operations are now in Spain, Portugal and France. A spokesman said that although the Australian activities were profitable, the return on capital was low. The operation is to be acquired by St George Bank for an undisclosed sum, expected to exceed net assets of dollars A122m ( pounds 61.3m).

St George was until last year Australia's largest building society. Having adopted bank status it is now number five in the industry with 295 branches.

Barclays also announced it had been granted branch status in Australia. As a result, BZW would gain the full backing of Barclays' balance sheet, allowing it to handle larger transactions.

BZW was established in Australia in 1987 and employs 550. It has moved into second place in terms of volume of shares traded on the Australian stock exchange.

Barclays is expected to announce pre-tax profits of more than pounds 800m on 10 March, the first full-year figures since Martin Taylor took over as chief executive last summer.